Josna Rege

371. Quirks

In blogs and blogging, clothing, reflections, Stories, women & gender, Words & phrases on April 22, 2016 at 9:53 am

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Blogging from A to Z
  Theme: Bringing Me Joy

Quirk: an unusual habit or type of behavior, or something that is strange and unexpected.

Quirky: a little odd. Unconventional. Unusual, in an attractive and interesting way.

Q-1I’ve written before (TMA# 158, The Pagli and the Tramp) about society’s low tolerance for deviation from behavioral norms. It seems that we are all expected to walk in lockstep. People seen to be dressing too dowdily or too flamboyantly, eating too much or too little or “strange” food, spending too much or being too thrifty, exercising too much or too little, speaking too loudly, expressing strong opinions, making personal remarks: no matter what people say or do, other people will talk about it and pass judgement on them. But surely most of these are harmless idiosyncracies that make each of us who we are, differences that we should welcome rather than condemn.

There are times in one’s life when one is under greater pressure to conform than others. During middle school, for example, especially for girls; or during one’s working life or young motherhood. In academia, junior faculty who have not yet received tenure are often afraid to speak out (funny, this, given the much-vaunted academic freedom). Those who do not speak a dominant language well, or who speak it with a foreign accent, face ridicule and worse. I think of Sridevi’s character in the film English Vinglish, whose own children humiliate her in her own home and her own country because she is not sufficiently fluent in English, the language of the educated elite.

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At my age, though, I no longer care much about the judgements of others. I think of Yeats’ poem, Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad and think that it’s even more true for old women. They should be grateful for our eccentricities (literally: deviation of an orbit from circularity), welcome our mild battiness, and be thankful that we’re not raging. Arguably, society has even less tolerance for deviation from the norm in women than in men, but advancing age and its attendant invisibility gives us women greater license to be our crazy selves, to be scandalous, at least to be quirky.

So I make no apologies for my quirks, and delight in those of my friends and colleagues. In class last week a student startled me by calling me “Our Lady of the Tea and Scarves” (which I accepted, since it’s patently true, although I doubt if he would have dared to make such a personal remark to a male professor). One of my colleagues dresses exclusively in 1940s clothes (ensembles, as she calls them), complete with hats, and this too is accepted as her trademark style. My friend Anna loves candles, and whenever I drop in of an evening, she lights them in welcome. And of course, books. My friends Jude and Martin and I always show each other our latest finds at the book sheds at our respective town dumps, where they volunteer of a Saturday morning. The tendency nowadays seems to be to pathologize everything, add it to the DSM as a new syndrome. All of the above habits, benign as they are, could also be labeled mild or moderate disorders. But perhaps that’s the key: society must police the slightest sign of dis-order.

Welcome Variety, Welcome to the joyful proliferation of Difference! Thank goodness for quirks!

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  1. Well, this is interesting, Josna, and strikes a deeply resonant chord. When my wife was growing up her father constantly declared how she was “not normal”, as though conformity was a thing devoutly to be wished for (as it probably was in the postwar years). My own father always seemed deeply disappointed in what I had failed to become. So what’s new in parents being disappointed in their offspring?

    Worries about a grandchild being on the autistic spectrum led to us both having a good look at ourselves and perhaps why we were attracted to each other. Eccentric you could certainly call us, but it turns out (from online questionnaires and now proper research, all short of professional diagnosis though my wife’s a bona fide psychologist, so that’s the next best thing!) that we both likely have ASD, and that I’m probably Asperger’s too. It certainly helps explain why we don’t appear to fit into normal parameters, and should aid us — me particularly — in using behavioural strategies to mitigate some awkward social interactions; above all it helps to confirm that our eccentricities (“things existing away from the centre”) are attributes to accept and maybe relish rather than apologise for or worry unduly about. It’s not for nothing that we’re seen as quirky! And now you too! Yay!

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. What I took away from it was two-fold. First, that both we and others need to accept and even enjoy the traits that make us who we are, even when they are different from the norm; and second, that diagnostic tests and behavioral training may not merely serve to pathologize who we are, but can also help us to become more self-aware and function more smoothly in the world. Cheers, J

  2. My candles are begging to be lit. You should visit soon!

  3. The most interesting people have quirks or eccentricities. 🙂

    • True. Some quirks are considered harmless or even lovable, though, while others are felt to be intensely irritating or even downright dangerous. For example, what I may think of us just “me” may be experienced as unacceptable behaviour by others. So just celebrating my quirkiness doesn’t let me off the hook; in fact it may in part be resistance to needed change on my part. So there’s a follow-up story to be written. . .

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